As a screenwriter, I’ll frequently find myself at a meeting with a Hollywood executive who keenly lets me in on a secret: Virtual reality is “the future” of scripted entertainment. While there is little doubt that the old ways for television and movies are changing — shows are getting shorter for YouTube or longer for Netflix — I wonder if the executives extolling the virtues of VR have actually strapped on a pair of goggles and taken a good, hard look at this future they champion. Because from what I see, quality scripted VR entertainment is still science fiction.
There’s been no shortage of attempts from very talented people to create quality scripted entertainment for virtual reality headsets. Sundance’s New Frontier program has been a major cheerleader. In the past two years, it has debuted VR content that ranges from whimsical comedy to date-rape drama to wacky ’80s-inspired sci-fi. This year’s most polished piece of “scripted entertainment” as we might traditionally know it, Defrost, starring Carl Weathers, tells the story of a patient awakening from a 30-year cryogenic freeze. I watched as my friends took turns behind the eyes of this character, craning their necks around the room trying to make sure they weren’t missing any content hidden in their 360-degree virtual space.
And herein lies the first hurdle to virtual reality: sociability. I’m hardly an anti-VR curmudgeon. In fact, I’m excited to upload my mind and live in a virtual world. But you know what? I’m in the minority. For most people, watching scripted entertainment is a shared social experience. New episodes of Game of Thrones are a party, and I know plenty of married folks who feel like they’re committing some kind of entertainment infidelity if they skip ahead on episodes of House of Cards. For the singletons, Netflix ‘n’ chill remains a crucial, tried-and-true hookup formula.
The key element in all of these experiences is as old as the medium. It’s the ability to share in the reactions of others as we watch the same screen: to look at their faces as they laugh, squeeze their hands when you’re scared, or make a move for a kiss when the time is right. Attend a midnight screening of The Evil Dead or The Rocky Horror Picture Show to behold the power of the social movie-watching experience. Virtual reality lands on the wrong side of this social experience. You put on the goggles alone, you enter a black box alone, and you emerge alone. Pass your headset to your friend and do something else until she’s done. That does not a Game of Thrones party make.
That’s not to say that there is no social aspect to virtual reality, of course. But for scripted entertainment, the only real parallel would be the book club. Like VR, reading is solitary and personal, but discussions about it can be a highly social experience.
But the notion of book-club-level discussions about scripted VR entertainment presupposes that it is of such substance and quality to merit them. And herein lies the second hurdle for scripted VR: We just don’t know how to tell those stories yet. VR is very different from what any writer, director or cinematographer is used to, because the viewer can direct her attention in a 360-degree space, away from center stage. Not only does she have the freedom to do that, but she has an actual incentive to look away — why else would this story be told in VR if there weren’t things to look at all over?
It is simply no longer a given that a director has the audience’s attention focused on a stage. This renders classic cinematic tools such as cuts, pans and zooms obsolete. Strictly speaking, these techniques are not required to make a film. It’s entirely possible that an auteur director can find a way to work with these limitations to create something artful, like Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002) — filmed with one single Steadicam shot through 33 rooms of a museum. But this kind of challenging, experimental film is not for everyone — and even Sokurov needed to contend with the fact that the viewer could look away at any moment.
For now, it’s no coincidence that the best-scripted VR experiences are much less like television and far more like stage plays. But again, with stage plays, the director expects you to look at the stage, not goggle around the entire venue looking for off-shot content. This problem is clear in Defrost. You are in the point of view of the awakened patient. Your family has changed during the years you’ve been asleep, and now you’ve been reunited again. It should be a powerful emotional moment. But you can’t help but wonder what you’re missing. Turn around and look behind you — shut up for a second, long-lost husband and kids — and, yep, there’s Carl Weathers standing there, breathing. Watch other people watching Defrost — they’ll invariably hunt around the room, searching for more content. It’s like seeing theatergoers scanning the aisles for hidden scenes during the climax to Romeo and Juliet.
This is not to say that scripted entertainment in VR is impossible. A good example is Wild: The Experience, a 2015 piece that spun off the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild. You are seated in a forest grove and are encouraged to look around and contemplate your natural setting as her character, Cheryl Strayed, slowly walks toward you. She sits and you watch, and then she looks past you. Her gaze draws your attention and you turn — suddenly her mother is behind you. They have a conversation. You are an observer. And then they leave. You’re left on a stump, and if you look around, you might see that — spoiler — a little fox has approached you. That’s it, but it’s memorable and it’s moving. Wild: The Experience works because it embraces VR — it makes use of user-driven, interactive discovery to propel the narrative experience.
Unlike in Defrost, exploring is a key part of Wild: The Experience. Wild is, essentially, a type of video game, not too dissimilar from non-VR exploration titles like Gone Home and Firewatch. In these experiences, the story is discovered and “scripted” together with the viewer through interaction — it does not unfold before them on a stage.
These game-like virtual worlds also create an opportunity to experience the story simultaneously with other players. I can imagine an animated, “multiplayer” version of Wild: The Experience. One told using exploration and the language of video games, instead of cuts and zooms, where you and your friends could explore and discover the story together. This would solve both of the problems with scripted VR — it would not force the viewer to watch a stage, and it would create a new kind of social experience, unique to virtual reality. As a writer, this is the kind of exciting “scripted entertainment” that VR offers. It’s just that the script has less dialogue, more emphasis on “found documents,” and only a handful of actors. It is entertainment that fits the medium — though it’s unlikely that this is the future Hollywood envisages.
[Images: Randal Kleiser Productions (Defrost); Fox (Wild: The Experience)]
So you’ve wanted to see African wildlife in its native habitat, but the prospect of booking such an expensive trip makes your bank account weep. What to do? Google can help. It just introduced the Mzansi Experience, a virtual visit to South Africa that uses Street View to give you a sense of the country’s grandiose landscape. On top of seeing elephants, leopards and other fauna, it’ll take you to everything from Cape Town’s Table Mountain through to Durban’s Golden Mile. While this still won’t be as awe-inspiring as a real safari, it’ll require much less effort… and it might even inspire you to go when your finances allow.
Source: Google Maps
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today granted Apple a series of 40 new patents, including one that describes various implementations and benefits of a Liquidmetal home button on iPhones and iPads.
Liquidmetal alloys, otherwise known as “bulk solidifying amorphous alloys” in the patent filing (via Patently Apple), have a number of unique properties, including high strength, corrosion resistance, light weight, and malleability.
Apple has annually renewed its exclusive rights to use Liquidmetal since 2010, but how it plans to use the alloys remains unclear. Early speculation centered around Apple using Liquidmetal for the iPhone SIM Tool, while other Liquidmetal home button patents have surfaced as early as 2014. Meanwhile, Steve Zadesky, named on this and other Liquidmetal patents, recently announced he was leaving Apple.
Today’s patent explains how Liquidmetal’s high elasticity makes it an ideal material for a pressure-sensitive home button that would deform slightly when pressed, but return to its normal shape when you remove your finger or thumb. Liquidmetal would always retain this elasticity, while other materials like titanium or stainless steel could become irreversibly deformed and adversely affect the home button.
A second embodiment of the patent details a home button with a switch comprising a small actuator positioned adjacent to Liquidmetal material, whereby pressing the actuator deforms the bulk solidifying amorphous alloy. The efficient design could be easier for Apple to manufacture compared to conventional pressure-sensitive home buttons that use dome switches placed on a substrate with or without an actuation nub.
It does not appear that Apple’s upcoming products, including the rumored iPhone SE, iPhone 7, and new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, will adopt Liquidmetal, given the absence of any recent rumors surrounding the alloys, but Apple’s continuous renewal of the material implies it remains interested. It is common for Apple to patent inventions that are not publicly released until years later, if ever.
United States Patent No. 9,279,733 describes Apple’s invention in more detail.
Tags: patents, Liquidmetal Technologies, USPTO
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Apple is rumored to be further expanding the iPhone’s screen size beyond the current 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus, moving to 5.8 inches in a future device that could launch “in 2018 or even earlier in 2017.” The news comes from a pre-publication report by DigiTimes that has been obtained by The Motley Fool, and it states that the 5.8-inch iPhone will include an OLED display, in line with previous rumors of Apple adopting the technology around that time.
According to the report, Samsung is to be the main source for the OLED panels, with LG and Japan Display “joining in later.” Recently, Samsung was reported to be on the verge of investing over $7 billion into supplying OLED displays for future iPhones, following rumors last year that 2018 would mark Apple’s official shift from LCD to OLED displays in its popular smartphone line. More recent reports suggest that OLED timeline could be moved up to 2017.
Based on DigiTimes’ estimates, the production of OLED displays could see significant output within the first year, though still only a fraction of the over 200 million iPhones Apple sold over the past year.
Per the note, DIGITIMES’ supply chain sources believe that 50 million of these AMOLED-equipped iPhones will make it out to customers in the first year of availability.
The company’s upcoming March media event is rumored to showcase the launch of a new 4-inch “iPhone SE,” but as of yet there have been few rumors suggesting the company has looked into expanding the already-large screen of the iPhone 6s Plus. With the rumored launch dates of 2017 or 2018, if it becomes a reality, the 5.8-inch OLED iPhone could arrive as either an “iPhone 7s” or more likely an “iPhone 8” generation.
Recent rumors surrounding this year’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have indicated the device will adopt a thinner body, flush rear camera, and stereo speakers, while also doing away with the traditional 3.5-mm headphone jack. A dual-lens rear camera has also been rumored for at least some models of the larger iPhone 7 Plus, with one report claiming those models could be launched under a separate “iPhone Pro” name.
Related Roundup: iPhone 6s
Tags: digitimes.com, iPhone 8
Buyer’s Guide: iPhone (Neutral)
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A microwave-sized product that launches today on Kickstarter confirms that small smart appliances are leaps ahead of their full-sized counterparts in connecting the kitchen.
An example of a Tovala meal that the oven will scan and cook automatically.
The Tovala Smart Oven will combine the convenience of food delivery with barcode scanning, Wi-Fi and a connected app to make cooking quick and easy for folks who want a well-rounded meal without the hassle of a lot of prep.
You can use the Tovala Smart Oven in two ways: as a standalone countertop oven that you can control with an app, or in conjunction with Tovala-delivered meals. The second option combines the smart appliance with a mostly fresh food delivery service that’s similar to Blue Apron or Plated. If you sign up for the delivery, you’ll be able to select two to three meals from as many as six weekly offerings. Each packaged meal comes with a barcode that tells the oven how to cook the food in that specific meal.
For example, let’s say you have a meal of chicken and asparagus. When the Tovala scans that meal, the oven will know how long to bake the chicken, and it will kick on the broiler near the end of the cook time to add a little color to the asparagus.
More Countertop Appliances
- This machine promises to cook it all — and with Wi-Fi, too (hands on)
- Live-stream baking? Company puts camera in countertop oven
- Countertop induction oven promises to speed up cooking
The smart oven will cost $199-$279 during the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, prices that are comparable to higher-end microwaves, but Tovala hasn’t set the final retail price. Backers should begin receiving their units at the end of the year.
The Tovala is the latest of a string of countertop ovens that are becoming the gateway for consumers to introduce connectivity and efficiency to their kitchens. At the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago this weekend, newcomer small appliance company Gourmia introduced its Wi-Fi-connected multicooker that includes a full-color touchscreen that guides you through recipes. We also saw the debut of Panasonic’s countertop induction oven at the trade show. Panasonic’s oven’s not connected, but uses heat from electromagnetic energy to cook entire meals (raw meat and all) in 20 minutes or less.
The Tovala’s biggest competition will likely come from the June Intelligent Oven, a Wi-Fi connected countertop appliance that promises to recognize foods and recommend the appropriate cooking settings. It can also recognize food without a barcode and has a built-in camera that gives you a live stream of your meal as it cooks, puts the June oven’s technology ahead of the Tovala. But June’s $1,500 price will keep this product out of a lot of people’s hands when the manufacturer releases it this spring.
- Create and upload your own recipes to the Tovala wesbite
- Oven uses a combination of wet and dry heat for functions such as broil, convection heat, bake and steam
- External dimensions: 13.25×19.75×14.75 inches
- Food delivery service is not yet available and is optional for Tovala owners
- No knobs or dials on the unit, most controls are located in the app
The Good The Galaxy S7 Edge has a gorgeous larger curved screen and larger battery than the otherwise identical standard S7. It really is something special. The extra navigation tools can be useful when used judiciously.
The Bad When you pile on these extra navigation tools, they slow you down rather than speed you up. It’s pricier than other good phones.
The Bottom Line The gorgeous Galaxy S7 Edge makes the best Android phone that much better.
Here’s the phone should you buy right now: This one. What catapults the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge to such heights? Is it the excellent camera, the beast of a battery, the expandable storage or the seductive design that’s worth more than the sum of its parts? Yes, and more. This phone kicks the already-fantastic (just slightly smaller) Galaxy S7 up a notch with a bigger battery and that wraparound design on both sides that never fails to draw me deeper into whatever I’m viewing or doing.
Everything about the 5.5-inch S7 Edge excels from the inside out, and Samsung has refined the extra navigation software that dresses up the screen’s physical curves. There are of course a few minor drawbacks — there’s no such thing as a perfect device — but something about it feels more organic than your garden-variety phone, more complete. If you’ve ever seen one of Samsung’s curve-screen phones before, such as the S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and Note Edge, you know what I’m talking about.
Real phones have real curves: Samsung’s bold…
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The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is the larger, sleeker of the two phones.
Samsung has put a lot of effort into making the secondary menu bar more useful: icons get bigger and there are more types of information you can show there, like a shortcut to your favorite apps and tasks. There’s a speed dial to your favorite contacts, an optional pane for sports scores and news headlines, even a tool to pull up the flashlight and ruler. These are handy, just use them sparingly.
Is the Edge worth the higher price compared to the S7? If you have the cash, then yes. For me, the phone’s shape is reason enough, like how a car enthusiast might upgrade to a leather interior. The extra cost spreads out if you pay by installments; even if you pay in full, the difference diminishes when you consider you’ll probably own this phone for the next two years.
That said, you wouldn’t be making the mistake of your life by going for a more wallet-friendly phone like the Google Nexus 6P or even the S7. But if you want the most stylish, most all-in-one phone that money can buy, you’ve found it.
The S7 Edge goes on sale March 11 and starts at $750, £639 and AU$1,249. Read more about the S7 Edge’s top-notch software and hardware in my full Galaxy S7 review, and read on below for more on the Edge’s software, battery performance and specs.
Navigating the Edge
I liked being able to jump into the edge display navigation from any screen, without having to go back to the start screen as you would normally have to do. This was an easy way to reach out to a favorite contact and my most-used app.
At first, it’s fun to hit the nine-tab ceiling and try them all, but pretty soon I realized that if I didn’t know exactly which pane I wanted, I wasted more time looking for it than if I had just gone to find the thing I wanted from the home screen in the first place. Three or four of these add-ons hit the sweet spot.
Also, some panels that I’d want just don’t exist yet, because the companies haven’t made plugins.
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Swipe, swipe and away!
The Good Polished design. Awesome camera. Long battery life. microSD storage slot and water-resistant (again!).
The Bad Annoyingly reflective. Smudge magnet. Plastic-looking selfies even with no filter. No removable battery, which isn’t surprising, but is still a compromise compared to 2014’s S5.
The Bottom Line The fast, powerful, beautiful Galaxy S7 phone is 2016’s all-around phone to beat.
The ultimate way to test a new phone? Travel with it. When you’re seeing sights and losing yourself to the moment, there’s no room to tolerate a poor camera or buggy software, slow speed or short battery life. If there’s a flaw, you’ll find it.
So I tested the Samsung Galaxy S7 in London and Berlin, while colleagues also took it for a spin in San Francisco and Sydney. And you know what? It did great. Better than great. In fact, the S7 was an awesome phone that never cracked under the pressure of being the only way I take pictures and navigate completely unfamiliar terrain, all while keeping battery life going during long days out. And it did so with more finesse than existing phones. I’d call it the best all-around phone out there, better even than the excellent Google Nexus 6P and iPhone 6S. (But not quite as sexy as its fraternal twin, the larger curvy-screen S7 Edge, my top pick if you want to splurge.)
Here’s what I found (along with fellow S7-testers) while using the S7 around Europe. You can also scroll to the end for a specs comparison chart.
Samsung’s gleaming Galaxy S7 is all win (pictures)
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Perfect for pockets, but smudgy as hell
I began my testing on London’s crowded, bagpipe-festooned bridges and streets. Since I constantly mashed the S7 into my jeans and jacket pockets only to retrieve it again for a weather check, photo, digital payment or to navigate around, its approachable size was a much better fit for me than a larger phone. “Medium” by today’s bonkers standards, it has a 5.1-inch screen.
All Galaxy S7, all the time
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge tops them all
- Best Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge cases
Throughout all this nonstop handling, the S7’s curved back and sides made it comfortable to hold, and the one time I dropped it it didn’t dent or break. That was only a few feet off the floor inside a pub, mind you — I’m sure it’d sustain more damage if it had clattered onto pavement.
I spent a good, long time staring at the S7. That curve-back design I mentioned and some very slight rounding on the edges around the display are damn nice, giving the phone a far more luxe and contoured appearance than most, including last year’s ramrod-straight Galaxy S6. In fact, look closely at the details and you can see that this S7 is built better than previous Galaxy phones.
Want fries with that grease?
One downside to the S7’s shiny metal-and-glass backing is that smudges pile up on smudges, leaving a semi-permanent sheen of finger grease all over your expensive property. It’s gross, and a pain to constantly clean, which always fails anyway. But like all beautiful phones, you’re bound to slap a case on it anyway, so it’s almost a moot point — just not an excuse.
Camera, camera, camera!
I took a boatload of photos in London while testing the phone, but when my sister and I went to Berlin for the weekend, all hell broke loose. Every pastry and pretzel, imposing museum, graceful river crossing; every glorious kebab and lip-smacking beer became an opportunity for dutiful documentation.
What was confirmed again and again is that crisp photos from the 12-megapixel camera countered low-light interference in every darkened cocktail bar, moodily lit restaurant and dusk-dimmed park. Although this camera has fewer megapixels than last year’s S6, it takes better photos. Scenes are brighter, which makes the action easier to see.
Even in low-light scenes, such as a Berlin speakeasy, the S7 trumps the iPhone 6S, yielding brighter, more usable photos. Digital noise was still there, just diminished; those small speckles of color that infiltrate the picture are an inevitability in low-light digital camera shots.
Whip-quick autofocus was also a winner, grabbing clear shots of moving objects, like swaying flowers (yes, I really do take photos of flowers) and my sister lunging like a lightsaber-wielding Jedi in front of a mural (fear her!).
Photos didn’t just look great on the S7’s sharp screen; they also stood up to enlarged views on my laptop and an even larger monitor back in London.
The seriously fast autofocus and optical image stabilization helped capture flowers in strong winds.
I also really liked using the new, optional preview mode that lets you delete or share photos immediately after taking them. Oh yes, it has optical image stabilization (OIS), which helped keep my photos from blurring after all those jetlag-fighting coffees.
I’m still less sure of the 5-megapixel front-facing camera, which now has even more “beautification” filters than before. I never liked these, even though I’m vain enough that I don’t want to see every line and wrinkle. To me, they make skin appear plastic and dull; maybe the uncanny valley of too-perfect skin, but I know plenty of people who love the youthening effect. At any rate, I turned all of these filters to zero, but still found that selfies either looked fake or overly harsh. Something in the processing seems off, but this isn’t a dealbreaker by any means.
Selfies looked a little off: either too smooth or too sharp, even with beauty modes off.
I did use the S7’s front-facing screen “flash” to light dark selfie scenes, which basically means the phone screen whites-out before the camera fires. This came in handy, since my sister basically selfie-documented every move we made for her husband and kids, especially at dinner and the bar. The flash…it’s blinding. Toning down the brightness would make it more useful, especially if I could pick a warmer color temperature or lower brightness setting to make it all less intense. The iPhone 6S’ similar selfie-flash did better in the same scenes.
Less bloatware is a very, very good thing
Back in London, my appreciation for Samsung’s more restrained customizations to the Android 6.0 software settled in. The S7 slims down the bloatware considerably, while leaving plenty of advanced settings for customizing everything from the lock screen to phone themes — you just have to dig a little deeper now to find everything. Samsung also added a few nice-but-subtle optional touches, like a new “tray” to help you easily move app icons from one screen to another.
Dedicated gaming tools help you record and screenshot your sessions.
Speaking of extra touches, I really like the idea of the Game Launcher, a set of tools you can turn on to trigger some quick actions, like recording the screen or minimizing your game so you can do something else. I’m not the kind of active gamer who would immediately benefit from these features, so trying it out on the subway threw off my movements when playing more precision-based games, like the Riptide 2 racer.
My colleague Jason Parker in San Francisco liked being able to turn off all alerts (with the exception of actual incoming phone calls), but pointed out that the notification for an incoming call still covers most of the screen — so this particular feature doesn’t go far enough.
You always know the time and where you stand with battery life.
During my week away from San Francisco (aka home), I fell in love with the S7’s new always-on display, which shows you either the clock, a calendar or an image. It was immediately useful for checking the time and the phone’s battery levels, a constant worry, without actually having to take the phone out of standby. I also set up a clock for the local timezone and the one at home, so I knew when it was too early to call or text.
Battery life is long, performance swift
Other than the camera quality, battery life was my No. 1 concern when using the S7 during while Euro-tripping. I was often out from 9 a.m. until midnight, and didn’t always carry a bulky charger or heavy external battery pack, because that gets annoying. Luckily, I didn’t need to. The battery lasted through a full day of heavy use.
Over in San Francisco, my colleagues ran the S7 through our standard CNET lab tests, a looping video downloaded to the phone, played in airplane mode. The phone averaged 16 hours in three tests, which is one of the longest-running results we’ve seen for any phone. In comparison, the iPhone 6S scored 10.5 hours on the exact same test. I’d still expect to charge it once a day, but would be more confident making it through a late night without dying. If you want a larger battery, there’s always the S7 Edge.
Death, taxes and unboxings. Three things in life that are as certain. On that there can be little discussion. If something is in a box, it must someday be let out of the box.
This is the Verizon model of the Samsung Galaxy S7. Or, rather, it will be once we take it out of the box. And inside this GS7 box you’ll find a couple surprises. And plenty of Verizon bloatware. But also a couple good things.
So here it is. Our Verizon Galaxy S7 unboxing.
Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge
- Galaxy S7 review
- Galaxy S7 edge review
- Galaxy S7 edge with Exynos: A Canadian perspective
- Here are all four Galaxy S7 colors
- Details on the Galaxy S7’s camera
- The SD card is back on the GS7
- Join our Galaxy S7 forums
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The Galaxy S7 edge isn’t about gimmicks — it’s about being a really great phone.
The quick take
Samsung is undeniably putting its marketing power behind the “edge” version of the Galaxy S7. It’s bigger, flashier and more expensive than the standard phone, and it’s for those who want to stand out from the crowd just a bit more. Compared to the compact Galaxy S7 the larger size of the GS7 edge is going to cause problems for some people, but if you want the boost in battery, head-turning curved screen and handful of extra software features, the Galaxy S7 edge is the one to get.
- Excellent screen
- Solid performance
- Great camera
- Waterproofing is a big bonus
- Pre-installed software still bothersome
- Back glass a fingerprint magnet
- Only 32GB models available
- Edge screen software not super useful
The best Samsung phone of its time?
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Full review
Over the past five years, innovation in the smartphone world has moved at a relentless pace. In terms of external design, component power and overall user experience, you can’t argue that the phones of today are exponentially better than those from just five years ago. With such amazing advances in so many areas, consumers don’t expect just one new and exciting feature per product release … they want everything to improve.
At first glance, it seems as though Samsung’s strategy with the Galaxy S7 edge is at odds with those consumer demands. Physically, it’s not unlike the Galaxy S6 edge+, which was also released just six months ago — it has a very similar metal and glass materials, similar screen size and the same dual curved display. At the same time, many features are unchanged — you get fast internals, a brilliant screen, wireless charging and familiar software.
But what if there wasn’t all that much in the Galaxy S6 edge and S6 edge+ that needed to be changed in the first place? Why change things just to seem like you’re doing something to make improvements, rather than focus on the few areas that needed fixes? If you take this view, you’ll see Samsung may have taken the right approach.
Expandable storage. A bigger battery. Waterproofing. Simple software improvements. Top it off with a better low light camera, even though the Galaxy S6 edge already had a great shooter, and from Samsung’s eyes it just checked the only boxes that were left unfilled in last year’s flagship. Does it add up to an experience worthy of 2016, or does the Galaxy S7 edge feel more like a refreshed flagship of the past year? We’re here to answer that in our full review.
About this review
I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after a week using a Verizon model of the Galaxy S7 edge, in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA and Seattle, WA. For the duration of the review, an Under Armour Band fitness tracker was connected over Bluetooth.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Video review
Words are one thing, but seeing a phone in action is another thing altogether. To pair with our written review, we’ve worked up a full video review of the Galaxy S7 edge as well. Check it out above, then read on for our full nuanced opinions on the phone in the rest of the review.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Specs
It’s best to kick off a review by getting the nitty-gritty specs out of the way first. These are all of the little line items, speeds and feeds that enable the Galaxy S7 edge to handle everything you throw at it — the specs mean nothing without the experiences that take advantage of them, but you can argue that the converse is also true.
Lots of predictable upgrades on the inside.
The Galaxy S7 edge incorporates a very predictable upgrade in specs over last year’s model, and in some areas sticks with the same specs as before. The one outward-facing move is in display size, where the GS7 edge comes in a 5.5-inches over last year’s 5.1 (though the GS6 edge+ was 5.7) but sticks with the same Super AMOLED display tech and 2560×1440 resolution. On the inside, a small bump to 4GB of RAM is welcomed, as are the new processors — you’ll get either a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, or Samsung’s latest octa-core Exynos 8 processor.
Two different processors
As we go through the Galaxy S7 edge review, it’s worth noting that there are actually two different processors out there, depending on where you buy the phone. In the U.S., China and Japan, the phone will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor. Elsewhere around the world, you’ll likely find a Samsung Exynos 8 octa-core processor instead.
Differences between the two phones in terms of performance and battery life should be negligible, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you see impressions of the phones that they do have different processors running the show. This review is entirely based on the use of a Snapdragon-powered U.S. model.
The two other notable spec table changes are storage and battery. You’ll only have the option to buy a Galaxy S7 edge with 32GB of internal storage; of course that’s paired with the new microSD card slot, which can take up to a 200GB card, but for those who want everything to be internal there aren’t 64 and 128GB versions any more. The battery also jumps to a rather large 3600 mAh, which is 1000 mAh more than the Galaxy S6 edge and even 600 mAh more than the Galaxy S6 edge+.
Here’s a full breakdown of the spec table, as compared to last year’s Galaxy S6 edge and the direct competitor from another company, the Apple iPhone 6s Plus.
|Operating System||Android 6.0||Android 5.1.1||iOS 9.2|
|Display||5.5-inch 2560x1440Super AMOLEDDual edge screen||5.1-inch 2560x1440Super AMOLEDDual edge screen||5.5-inch 1920x1080IPS LCDPressure-sensitive touch|
|Processor||Quad-core Snapdragon 820or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8||Octa-core Samsung Exynos 7420||Dual-core Apple A9|
|Expandable||microSD up to 200GB||No||No|
|Rear Camera||12MP f/1.71.4-micron pixelsOIS||16MP f/1.91.12-micron pixelsOIS||12MP f/2.21.22-micron pixelsOIS|
|Front Camera||5MP f/1.7||5MP f/1.9||5MP f/2.2|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMOBluetooth v4.2 LE USB 2.0, NFC||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMOBluetooth v4.1 LEUSB 2.0, NFC||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMOBluetooth v4.2 LE, USB 2.0, NFC (Apple Pay)|
|Charging||micro-USBFast chargingQi wirelessPowermat wireless||micro-USBFast chargingQi wirelessPowermat wireless||Lightning connector|
|Battery||3600 mAh||2600 mAh||2750 mAh|
|Water resistance||IP68 rating||No||No|
|Security||One-touch fingerprint sensorSamsung KNOX||One-touch fingerprint sensorSamsung KNOX||Touch ID fingerprint|
|Dimensions||150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm||142.1 x 70.1 x 7 mm||158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm|
The same, with subtle changes
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Hardware
As was the case with the Galaxy S4 following the Galaxy S3, heaps of digital ink have been (and will be) spilled online about how Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 edge doesn’t look demonstrably different from its predecessor. Even though as a standalone product with its curved display and flashy colors the Galaxy S7 edge stands out from a crowd, it’s easy to mistake it from a distance as the Galaxy S6 edge — or particularly the GS6 edge+ — of 2015.
Depending on whether you’re familiar with a Galaxy S6 edge or S6 edge+, this may come as a good or a bad piece of news. For those who enjoyed the smaller Galaxy S6 edge, it’s a bit rough — the GS7 edge is bigger and has even less metal to hold onto thanks to the new curved glass back. If you’re used to quite large the 5.7-inch GS6 edge+, the drop of 0.2-inches will be a welcomed sight — particularly in how it narrows the phone and makes it easier to reach across.
For the uninitiated who have yet to lay a finger on a recent Samsung flagship — and in particular either previous curved Galaxy S6 variant — you’re really in for a unique experience here. No matter what phone you’re coming from, it’s hard to deny the beauty of the Galaxy S7 edge, and the physical changes made — no matter how subtle — from previous generations are very much function-over-form in nature. The new curved glass back, borrowed from the Note 5, offers the Galaxy S7 edge a better surface for wrapping your fingers around. The slightly thicker build gives more room for battery, and also helps reduce the camera bump on the back to less than half a millimeter.
Samsung isn’t messing with a good thing.
The phone manages to be built like a solid, considerable piece of machinery while also keeping the weight in check and evenly distributed. The metal machining, external finishes and how the parts match up are all on the highest level. In terms of the actual usable functions of the device, from the headphone jack to the buttons, Samsung has taken the simplest route and put them where you expect — no back buttons, funky layouts or gimmicks. At this point Samsung has elevated its design story to focus on standout beauty and elegance, not useless changes in the name of “differentiation” that would actually turn into negatives.
That same philosophy is at play in the available colors of the Galaxy S7 edge, with four options that skew toward high fashion rather than being playful. The completely ostentatious gold variant shown in this review is as loud and gaudy as you’d ever want it to be, but it’s undeniably eye-catching and appealing to certain buyers — and it’s the color Samsung chooses to use for a majority of its marketing. Both the silver and gold colors are extremely glossy and reflective to the point where they can shoot quite the flight beam on someone or work as an impromptu mirror if cleaned up nicely — in other words, they turn heads when you’re using them. The black model is the conservative one (and probably my personal favorite) with far less gloss to it and even fewer silver accent pieces than the dark blue of last year, while the white model (only available internationally) strikes a nice middle ground between the bright mirrored finishes and the murdered-out black.
These are high fashion colors; but damn, those fingerprints …
And that brings me to the same complaint as I had with the previous model: this phone acquires and displays an impressive amount of fingerprints and smudges.
Covering the back of your phone in a solid pane of glass has always been a recipe for finger oil accumulation, but when you add that to the mirror-like gold and silver finishes it’s downright bothersome. The Galaxy S7 edge is actually impossible to keep clean unless you plan on wearing gloves every time you use it, and while those bright colors and smooth lines look great in marketing materials they’re quickly turned into something far less attractive once you lay your hands on it.
Same wonderful display
One area of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge+ that needed no additional work was the display. Despite having much of the attention spent on the mind-bending dual curves that accent the sides of the phone, the display quality is top-notch amongst any phone display out there, curved or flat. Samsung has the exact same Super AMOLED display tech and QHD (2560×1440) resolution this year, albeit cut into a slightly different size at 5.5-inches diagonally.
But no matter the size, the screen here is absolutely superb in every aspect. Colors really pop, the viewing angles are great (important on the curves in particular) and text is sharp as a tack. You can argue that the colors are a bit over-saturated and unnatural, but even though there’s an option in the settings to turn down the saturation I leave things at the default because they just look so good.
One of my favorite features of Samsung’s latest displays is their incredible range of brightness, meaning you can crank it way down at night to reduce eye strain or let it go all the way up during the day. And when you leave automatic brightness turned on and are in direct sunlight, a special display mode is engaged to eke out a few extra nits to make it easier to see.
Sticking with micro-USB
Beyond the physical looks of the phone, a good bit of focus is being put on Samsung’s choice to stick with a micro-USB port on the bottom instead of the newer USB-C standard. Considering the hardware similarities to last year’s flagship lineup it isn’t too surprising that the same legacy port is back in 2016, but there are a few other things to take into consideration as well.
For as great as USB-C is, micro-USB does everything Samsung needs it to do.
Samsung has said that keeping compatibility with the current Gear VR headset was a priority, which necessitated keeping the port. It also has a long legacy of consumers with previous Samsung phones that it feels would prefer to keep those cables and docks around when they upgrade. Beyond their own intentions, they also just feel consumers aren’t ready to upgrade their infrastructure of third-party accessories to USB-C despite all of the port’s benefits.
Can you knock Samsung’s unwillingness to jump into the future USB standard? Absolutely. Will it do anything to change Samsung’s approach? Probably not. For now, even though USB-C is the new standard and has plenty of upside, micro-USB is doing everything Samsung wants it to do and for that reason sees no reason to move on just yet.
Fingerprint sensor, now with more possibilities
Plenty of focus is being put on fingerprint sensors in 2016 phones, but we should remember that Samsung was right there at the early stages of this game (at least amongst Android manufacturers) in launching the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge with excellent one-touch fingerprint sensors. These were a night-and-day improvement over the capable, but finicky swipe-style scanner in the Galaxy S5, and Samsung has carried over the same top-notch experience to the Galaxy S7 edge.
The biggest improvement this time around doesn’t come from any change in the hardware, actually, but rather the access to Android 6.0 Marshmallow’s new fingerprint authentication APIs.
With this new support, any app that targets Android’s standard fingerprint authentication system will work perfectly on the Galaxy S7 edge — and that’s extremely important as the number of Marshmallow-focused apps grows this year. Apps that only target Samsung’s own proprietary fingerprint APIs from pre-Marshmallow releases will still work, too, which boosts the install base of capable apps until the new Marshmallow-enabled one start to fill up the Play Store.
Return of the microSD card slot
The SIM card slot on the Galaxy S7 edge is in the same place as prior models — on the top edge of the phone — but this year it harbors a little something extra: room for a microSD card. Samsung heard a considerable amount of angst regarding its decision to remove the microSD card slot from its flagship Galaxy phones in 2015 after having it every previous iteration. And no matter how many people actually miss the feature compared to how many it seems like, the slot is back on the Galaxy S7 edge.
But of course no feature addition comes without some sort of issue, right? This time adding the microSD card back to the Galaxy S7 edge brings up an interesting conversation because the phone is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which added a new way of handling removable storage called “adoptable storage.” Adoptable storage allows the phone to take in an external storage device and integrate it to the system so that it can be treated as internal storage.
An SD card slot is something a lot of people were clamoring for, even if it doesn’t work as adoptable storage.
That’s a departure from the way previous versions of Android used an SD card, and for a multitude of reasons Samsung has decided not to include adoptable storage in its Marshmallow build for the Galaxy S7 edge — not the least of which being user confusion and worries over data corruption when a low-quality SD card is used. When you insert an SD card into the Galaxy S7 edge it works just like it did in any pre-Marshmallow phone you may have used, in that it’s simply mounted as a separate volume for you to store data of your choosing on. That is, except for some kinds of data that just don’t play well with removable storage of this type.
For example the SD card is best used for media storage, where the files are large and the speed requirements are relatively low — like movies and music loaded from your computer, or pictures and video generated on your phone. Whether you can install apps onto the SD card is a case-by-case situation you’ll find by visiting the application settings, but chances are your most intense and powerful apps won’t be allowed to move. You also wouldn’t want to use the external storage for data that you don’t want to be easily removed from the phone with a simple SIM tray tool.
Whether the SD card is all that useful when it’s implemented this way is up for debate, but knowing that it is there for those who want to use it to its full potential is good. It doesn’t have any effect on the phone if you choose not to use it, and it opens up a way for you to expand storage later if you need it.
TouchWiz has matured
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Software
We’ve endured yet another year of “leaks,” “sources familiar with the matter” and “confirmed reports” relating to Samsung supposedly dramatically overhauling its Android interface, and in little shock to myself Samsung hasn’t done anything of the sort. Samsung’s take on Marshmallow is much like its builds of Lollipop, which in itself was an improvement over previous versions but hasn’t been a massive departure from what immediately preceded it.
TouchWiz on Marshmallow
Marshmallow marks a point of subtle design changes around the interface. The biggest being the flatter, quieter notification shade that drops bright colors for subtle blues and greys, and a few Material Design-inspired animations throughout the user interface. Awkwardly placed drop shadows and unnecessary 3D animations are gone, which is a welcomed change, but much of Samsung’s interface is the same as you’ll find on a Galaxy S6 edge still on Lollipop. (Also remember that last year’s Galaxy S phones are in the process of being updated to this same Marshmallow software.)
The settings menu, keyboard and default apps are just a few pixels away from being the same as before, which in this case is actually just fine considering that they were already very flat and modern after their previous updates. The vast majority of the interface is very refined by Samsung at this point, and beside the common complaint of people not liking it just because it’s not “Stock” Android, it’s hard to argue that this software doesn’t work really well.
A word on security updates …
We’ve been placing increased emphasis on monthly security updates since Google announced them in the fall of 2015. And Samsung has dedicated a website to security and what’s new in its own updates.
While we applaud the transparency, the truth remains that it’s a crapshoot when (or whether) a carrier-branded Samsung phone will be updated. While it’s not quite a deal-breaker for us, it’s something to keep in mind when purchasing.
There’s definitely some room for Samsung — the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer — to improve on this front.
Naturally the bump to Marshmallow also brings in those base features (aside from adoptable storage, as noted above) that we have all learned about at the end of 2015, which Samsung has implemented properly here. Doze and app optimization are built in to hopefully extend battery life when things aren’t in use, runtime permissions help make it clear when apps are accessing different parts of your phone, new APIs for apps that need fingerprint authentication and so much more. Getting these changes for “free” are often far more interesting to some than the features Samsung adds after the fact.
Refined looks are one thing, but altogether new features are always welcomed with any phone release and are often bigger changes than just the interface design.
One of the biggest features you’re likely to use every single day is the new “always on” display. Now when you turn off your display, it goes just two seconds before turning back on a handful of pixels to display some useful information. You can tell it to show one of several clocks, a calendar or simplistic background image, with each one only taking up a small portion of the actual display thanks to the Super AMOLED screen tech that only lights up the required pixels to display an image.
This system barely uses any battery over the course of the day (Samsung says one or two percent), and saves you from having to power on the whole screen just to check things like the time or date. Unfortunately even the most information-dense of the widgets is rather sparse compared to the likes of what Motorola and Nexus phones offer, as you won’t get a full set of notifications or changing information as the phone pulls it in.
Add these features up, and the software update gets kind of exciting.
Switching gears, Samsung has brought the “scrolling screenshot” option over to the Galaxy S7 edge after making it exclusive to the Galaxy Note 5. It’s a wonderful way to capture more than just what’s visible in the current window of the screen, and adds to an overall-improved screenshot function that makes it faster to capture and share from the Galaxy S7 edge.
In a surprising move, Samsung has added two rather large gaming-focused features to the phone as well. A new “Game Launcher” pulls in all of your games to a specialized folder so you can tweak a couple of settings before launching into them, including the ability to turn off notifications while you’re in a full-screen game. Another option is called “Gaming Tools” — with this turned on, you get a small interface to handle certain gaming-focused features while inside a game. You can quickly lock the Recents and Back keys, minimize your game, take screenshots and even record your gameplay with just a couple of taps.
Shocker: Samsung’s keyboard is actually quite good now. After several generations of keyboards that just had a weird timing and poor autocorrect tendencies, making it impossible for me to consistently type, the latest one shows an exponential improvement. I went through this entire review period typing everything from quick messages to long emails on the default keyboard with little issue — I could make it maybe five messages on the old keyboard before I swapped it out. I’m still not a huge fan of the integration with contacts (especially when it comes to email addresses) for auto correction, but considering the dramatic improvement here I’m happy to say that’s my only issue with it.
Some of the biggest feature changes come in the “edge screen” portion of the software, which is now filled with features more akin to the failed Galaxy Note Edge than what was available on the Galaxy S6 edge. Aside from the ability to change the size and transparency of the handle that brings in the edge interface, the interface change here is all about bigger and more involved edge panels.
The edge screen now goes beyond just apps and contact buttons, and adds in deeper experiences that you’ll actually spend more than a couple seconds looking at and interacting with. Several new edge panels are pre-installed but not enabled, though a new “Tasks” pane that lets you go directly into specific parts of apps is enabled as one of the three defaults.
The new edge panels from Samsung include displays for weather, calendar, place profiles, tools like a compass and ruler, and Milk Music. There are also several Yahoo-partnered panels, including a news headline updater, a stocks ticker and sports score panel. The edge panels take up a lot more room on the screen
Samsung’s third swing at the edge screen is the best yet, but it still isn’t compelling.
Samsung’s third swing at the edge screen also reintroduces the ability to download third-party edge screens from Galaxy Apps, which once again has the potential of letting developers get in on this new platform. At the time of this review there are a grand total of five edge panels available for download, and only three of them are actually from an independent developer. It’s pretty neat that Samsung is opening this back up, but I don’t see a world in which developers get behind it considering the limited scope and potential of actually making any money with them.
At this point I’m starting to understand the edge screen a tad more. It’s a really good way to quickly switch between apps without heading back to the home screen, as well as contact people you get in touch with most — unfortunately it’s still not a great experience when it comes to much more than that. Panels that show the weather and give you quick music controls are useful, but seeing small snippets of headlines or the latest sports scores just isn’t well suited to what still amounts to about one third the width of the phone’s display. The fact that tapping anything in these third-party Yahoo or CNN panels just opens up the browser to a webpage with more information isn’t helping things, either.
I’m all for the innovation on neat software like this, and it helps justify the extra purchase price of the “edge” variant of the phone, but there needs to be a lot more improvement here if I’m to completely integrate these edge screen experiences into my daily life.
Actually, a trade off
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Cameras
It’s undeniable that the Galaxy S and Note phones of 2015 offered some of the best (if not the best) camera experiences of any phone. The 16MP sensor behind a super-bright f/1.9 lens, supported by great processing software, was a revelation. And after just four phones released with that sensor and lens combination, Samsung scrapped it entirely to move onto what we find in the Galaxy S7 edge.
In terms of numbers, it’s pretty easy to wrap your head around. The camera sensor is now a lower 12MP resolution, which has the upside of making each individual pixel larger — now 1.4-microns instead of 1.12. It’s also paired up with a new lens with a wider aperture of f/1.7. That sensor change also enabled a new “Dual Pixel” feature, as Samsung calls it, which means every single pixel on the sensor is being used for phase-detection autofocus (PDAF). That enables incredibly fast focusing times, whether you’re picking up the camera to take a fast shot or moving between focal points on the fly.
Samsung has focused its marketing on low light photos, so I’m going to start here with my analysis. When it comes to nighttime shots, the Galaxy S7 edge predictably excels. The bright lens and sensor bring in plenty of light, and the software does a good job of processing things. Resulting shots are smooth and stay true to the scene in terms of brightness — the camera doesn’t attempt to over-brighten the scene to make everything visible, which is a good thing.
Low light is a point of emphasis, and it delivers.
Leaving the camera in Auto HDR mode actually surprisingly keeps HDR turned off most of the time in low light, and when you examine the EXIF data you can see why: the camera is for the most part using very slow shutter speeds to take in more light, keeping the ISO down to reduce grain.
The camera doesn’t hesitate to use shutter speeds as low as 1/10 of a second, which may seem fast if you aren’t privy to how cameras work but when compared to the usual 1/2000 or so of a daylight shot that’s a very long time to keep the shutter open. Even with OIS (optical image stabilization), shutter speeds that slow can sometimes result in blurry (or at least soft-looking) photos.
I didn’t experience completely blurry shots as often as I would’ve expected, but if you’re not steady you will see soft images here. Knowing that it’s all in the name of smoother low light shots I totally understand it, and if I wanted to do anything different the Pro mode won’t hold me back in this regard.
Moving on to bright scenes, where the Galaxy S6 edge was a wonderful standout, things aren’t quite as rosy here. Your average quick snapshot during the day is very good, as you’d expect out of any higher-end device released in the last year, particularly in situations where the subject is very close. In typical Samsung fashion the pictures are extremely pleasing to the eye and very vibrant, meaning they look great but aren’t a perfect representation of the actual scene — a common thing that phones do. Edges are crisp, colors look punchy and the only real issue I can find in these situations is that the white balance tends to be a bit warm.
Where the issues start to creep in is in situations where there are bright and dark parts of a scene: for example a dark wall or shadow cascading across the shot. These shots are a big test of a camera’s dynamic range and are historically tough for small sensors like those in smartphone cameras to handle. The Galaxy S7 edge takes in these scenes focusing strongly on the bright and vibrant parts of the photo, as you’d expect, and really leaves something to be desired in terms of quality in the dark portions. Dark areas get very blotchy and are noticeable immediately compared to the crisp bright parts of the photo. This is the case even with HDR turned on, which is designed to fix just these sorts of issues.
Hindsight can be a funny thing, but I would’ve been happy if this kept the Galaxy S6 edge’s camera.
While the quality of the overall picture is still good, particularly when viewed at a phone size, the problems with these pictures are far more apparent when you actually zoom into them a bit. Even zooming in on a scene by 25 percent reveals lots of visual aberrations and chroma noise from aggressive over-smoothing of dark areas. Of course most people won’t be zooming in on photos to evaluate their quality, but these problems exhibit themselves even when viewing a photo at its normal size if you’re one to be looking for things to critique in a photo.
Samsung’s decision to try and over-smooth these dark areas seems to be attempting to cover up for a shortcoming in the sensor that’s unable to properly resolve a wide dynamic range in a single shot, and it’s hardly the first smartphone camera that we’ve seen do just that. Photo “quality” is mostly subjective, particularly in phones where we take such a wide variety of photos with little planning or setup, but you can objectively say that in some situations the Galaxy S7 edge takes photos that aren’t as good as the Galaxy S6 edge of last year.
As someone who really loves what Samsung did with cameras in 2015, that’s a big disappointment. Last year Samsung was really only challenged by the LG G4 in camera quality, and this year depending on how other companies step up their camera games Samsung may be looking at some stiff competition. The Galaxy S7 edge still takes really wonderful pictures and can stick with the best of ’em in low light situations in particular, but to see a camera offering that isn’t a complete upgrade from last year is a tough pill to swallow.
Hindsight can be a funny thing, but at this point I would not have been disappointed if Samsung kept the exact same camera from last year in the Galaxy S7 edge.
The camera interface is basically unchanged from last year, which I’m completely fine with in this context — Samsung has one of the best camera interfaces out there. The simple set of quick toggles and buttons on either side of the viewfinder surface the most important features of the camera, and everything else is just a tap away in either Settings or Modes. Behind Settings you’ll get every toggle you’ll need for camera-wide changes, and Modes will let you quickly move to other shooting options like Pro, Panorama, Live broadcast, Slow motion and Hyperlapse (a new one).
The camera interface is just as fast as we’ve come to expect from Samsung, and it can still be launched in about one second with two presses of the home button at any time. The Pro mode is still a very nice feature to have for those who want to tweak every possible bit of the camera experience, but most people will stick in Auto and have a great time shooting.
One important point to break out here is how the Galaxy S7 edge’s camera handles using an SD card. Adding expandable storage by default sets that storage to be where pictures and videos are saved, save for burst shots which are still saved to internal storage for speed reasons. You’ll see a small SD card icon in the viewfinder reminding you that that’s where photos are going. One of the only real downsides of this system is due to how file permissions are handled — photos written to the SD card can’t be deleted or modified by other apps, so for example if you use a third-party gallery app like Google Photos, you’ll be unable to delete SD card-stored photos from that app. You can only delete them from Samsung’s Gallery.
Video and front-facing camera
The Galaxy S7 offers a variety of video modes. You can shoot standard video in 1080p or up to 4K (UHD), as well as Hyperlapse time lapses and 720p slow motion. When shooting standard video at lower than 4K resolution you can also use digital image stabilization, which together with the hardware stabilization provides dramatically smoother video. Overall the quality is good here, though the microphones can leave a bit to be desired when compared to a dedicated video camera. Be sure to check out the video above for some clips of what the Galaxy S7 edge can do.
When it comes to selfies, the Galaxy S7 edge is good, but like last year still isn’t great. The 5MP camera with f/1.7 lens definitely has the numbers right, but the fixed focal length can still provide for a little softness around your face depending on how you’re holding it. But if you nail the framing and take advantage of the HDR mode you’ll get some solid selfies from the Galaxy S7 edge. The “Panorama selfie” is still an awesome feature, as are the handful of ways you can actually take photos that don’t involve craning your hand to tap a shutter button.
Every phone should have it
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Waterproofing
In 2014, after several months using the Galaxy S5 and loving its waterproof rating, I wrote that the feature should come standard on every phone. My feelings haven’t changed since, though a majority of high-end phones still skip waterproofing. Thankfully, the Galaxy S7 edge brings an IP68 rating for dust and waterproofing.
It can survive in water — that doesn’t make it a rugged phone.
Just what does that mean exactly? The Galaxy S7 edge can handle full submersion in water up to three feet deep for 30 minutes. That’s far longer than anyone would actually feel comfortable leaving their phone in water, but the important point remains that the phone can come in contact with liquids and nothing bad will happen. Whether that’s an unfortunate drop in the toilet (hey it happens), a bump into the sink while you’re washing dishes or your clumsy friend spilling a beer on it at the restaurant, the Galaxy S7 edge will handle it just fine.
Now this doesn’t mean the Galaxy S7 edge is anything approaching a rugged phone, nor should it be treated as such — the waterproofing really is here just to save your phone from accidents involving liquids. I couldn’t consistently get the camera to record pictures or video under water, and the phone is quick to tell you to dry out the USB port if you try to charge it at any point close to the phone being submerged. Of course the physical design of the phone isn’t designed to take much damage, either — keep that in mind before you go tossing this thing around. It may survive the water, but maybe not the rest of the actions that put it in that position.
Actually using it
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Daily use
We know the specs. We know the features. But what’s the Galaxy S7 edge like to use every day? That’s the real question. Aspects of the phone like battery life, general interface performance and the speaker quality are big parts of how you experience the phone.
For some of us, there was no feature bigger (erm, smaller) of a disappointment on the Galaxy S6 edge than its battery life. Despite the gesticulating over how easy and fast it was to charge the phone, you just couldn’t deny that the phone wasn’t set to last through a day for most people. That turned into a disappointment for Samsung as well, which heard the calls and boosted the battery size in the Galaxy S7 edge to 3600 mAh.
If you’ve been following smartphones for any length of time you’ll know that there isn’t a direct correlation between battery size and battery life, and boosting the battery in the Galaxy S7 edge by 20 percent over the Galaxy S6 edge+ hasn’t exactly added the same amount of longevity through the course of the day.
It’s a full-day phone, but it will come up short if you push it too hard.
After several days using the phone in a variety of conditions I can say that it’s safely a 16-hour phone in my regular use with some battery to spare, which of course includes tons of email, messaging, podcast listening and camera use. My screen is on for at least three hours every day, though like most people it’s usually not for extended periods at any given time.
If I had heavier needs, like when I was traveling and hitting mobile data heavily, I could kill of the entire battery in just 12 hours — though I haven’t found any of my recent phones to be able to handle such usage and still make it through the entire day. With a lighter day that involved mostly standby time resting in my pocket, I was easily hitting 20 hours of usage before I got down to the five percent battery mark to engage Power Saving Mode.
Those usage numbers are only slightly better than I experience on the Galaxy Note 5 and S6 edge+, and are just about reaching what I get out of the Nexus 6P on an average day as well. This larger-than-average battery capacity is definitely required to get the Galaxy S7 edge+ through a full day without making you worried about where a power outlet is, and it means I rarely worried about battery life on the phone. It doesn’t, however, give you the confidence of “do anything, no consequences” battery life that so few phones can offer.
With these internal specs it would be surprising if anything else was the case, but it needs to be said that the Galaxy S7 edge really flies through anything you could want to do on a phone with a 5.5-inch screen. Whether that’s a single heavy game or quickly switching between a handful of your favorite apps — or heck, using Multi Window to run two at once — the phone didn’t slow down or give up. Samsung’s own apps, crucially including the camera, were flawless in their performance.
I’ve yet to see a phone that was truly free from all slowdowns and hiccups, particularly once they get loaded up with apps, services and user data, but these small hiccups were few and far between on the Galaxy S7 edge — I only found a few simple delays in launching apps after closing a heavy game or updating several apps out of Google Play at once.
When Samsung moved to this sleek new design last year, it clearly didn’t plan to incorporate big speakers as a tentpole of the experience. You’ll find the same speaker blasting noise out of the bottom of the phone through an eight-hole grille next to the micro-USB port, and while it’s hardly challenging the likes of the Moto X or Nexus 6P it does get plenty loud for speaker calls and short videos.
Since the quality isn’t that great — and frankly can’t be with this size of speaker — Samsung does let you crank up the volume pretty considerably to try and at least give you something to work with, even to the point of introducing notable distortion depending on the type of audio. Chances are you won’t need to push this thing to 100 percent volume to get what you need out of it (again, you won’t be listening to music on this), but if you do it really shows off the relatively low quality of the speaker. I really would like to see Samsung move to a front-facing speaker(s) setup, but I’m just not sure how there would be room to do so in this current industrial design.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Bottom line
When you pull everything on offer in the Galaxy S7 edge together, it’s pretty darn impressive. Don’t let the physical similarities to the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge turn you away — there is so much to like about this year’s flagship.
The phone is gorgeous to look at, and even if it collects some fingerprints on the back and the curved screen makes it a tad tough to hold those are small obstacles to overcome to have such a great design in your hand every day. It has all of the top-end specs you’re looking for, great performance and still manages to get through a full day on the battery without carrying around a charger or battery pack. Samsung also brought back the SD card slot and waterproofing — all without changing the profile of the phone.
The latest version of Samsung’s software hasn’t changed the interface dramatically, but Marshmallow itself brings lots of useful improvements and the extra features that Samsung added in this release add up to a notable improvement from what we got with Lollipop. The edge screen experience may not be one that brings you over to buying a Galaxy S7 edge, but it also picked up notable improvements and can do even more than before.
And even the parts of the phone that were unchanged from the past models are standout features. The screen is absolutely the best available today, and the fingerprint sensor is still great to use every day.
Perhaps the only puzzling part of the whole experience is the camera. The Galaxy S6 edge set sky-high expectations that the Galaxy S7 didn’t universally exceed, which leaves us a tad sour. Even still, this camera stands to be in the running for the best of the year, which really shows just how far Samsung is pushing its camera technology.
Should you buy it? Yes
Now here’s the golden question: whether you should actually put down the hard-earned cash on a Galaxy S7 edge. Aside from its exceptionally high price that will likely push toward $800, there isn’t really much you can find to keep the phone off of your short list if you’re in the market for a high-end phone. If you’re coming from an earlier Galaxy S phone it’s pretty much a no-brainer, and if your phone from another manufacturer is over a year old you’re likely to see lots of value in that upgrade as well.
Really, the only thing that will weigh heavily in keeping average people from upgrading their older Galaxy S phone to the new Galaxy S7 edge will be the external design similarities to the previous generation. Keeping things very similar has the upside of building a strong and consistent brand that’s recognizable across years, but that doesn’t do much in the way of getting people to upgrade to a new phone when it looks basically the same as the one in their hand today.
But looks can be deceiving — the visual similarities shouldn’t keep you from considering the Galaxy S7 edge. It is in every way an improvement over the Galaxy S6 edge, and in nearly every way a better choice than the Galaxy S6 edge+ that was released just six months ago.
Where to buy the Galaxy S7 edge
This is always a tricky question when it comes to a device that’s available globally from a variety of retailers, but we can at least offer up some handy links of those who want to buy in the U.S. from one of the major carriers. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all have the Galaxy S7 edge for sale, and you can also check out major retailers like Best Buy to buy for use on any of those carriers as well.
See at Amazon See at Verizon See at Sprint See at T-Mobile See at AT&T
Also: Read our Galaxy S7 review!
The Galaxy S7 edge is a seriously great phone, but it’s only half of this year’s Galaxy S launch from Samsung — there’s also the “standard” Galaxy S7. It’s smaller and flatter, but offers much of the same experience we’ve covered here. It’s worth learning about it to help you decide which of the two is right for you.
Hit the link below for our comprehensive Galaxy S7 review.
Read our GS7 review here!
This is the best Samsung Galaxy phone to date — except for that other one that’s lurking out there.
The quick take
The Galaxy S7 is one of the two best phones we’ve seen in seven iterations of the Galaxy S series. The other is this phone’s cousin, the Galaxy S7 edge. It’s the best design Samsung has brought to bear, big without being bulky, with a mix of specs and usability you’d expect in a phone of this caliber. Combine with that an outstanding camera and you’ve got a phone that will serve just about anyone.
- Excellent refinement of the GS6
- Improved battery life
- A great camera
- A size that hits the sweet spot
- A lackluster launcher
- Duplicative software features
- Still prone to carrier bloatware
- Lacking some future-proof features
The best Galaxy yet
Galaxy S7 Full Review
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype that is the Samsung Galaxy S7. It’s easy to look in awe at the over-the-top launch event, which was as entertaining as it was informative, and without being smarmy. It’s easy to be affected by the sheer force of the Samsung marketing arm, which went into work the minute the Mobile World Congress launch ended.
But spend some time with the Galaxy S7 and you’ll quickly come to the realization that this is a really good phone. Easily one of Samsung’s best, if not the best. It’s imperfect, sure. It maybe won’t be for everyone, but it’ll serve the needs of most, and do so better overall than anything else out there.
Much of what you’ll find in the Galaxy S7 should be familiar to those who own a Galaxy S6. But Samsung has taken what it did well in its 2015 flagship and and improved it for 2016 — and more important it addressed a number of concerns we had with the GS6.
Let’s get into it. This is our Samsung Galaxy S7 review.
About This Review
We’ve been using a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S7 (SM-G930V) for 10 days in Pensacola, Fla., briefly in Atlanta, and also in the middle of Lake Lanier, Ga. It’s running Android 6.0.1 (Build MMB29M.G930VVRU1APB1) with the February security patches.
Our Galaxy S7 was connected to a Huawei Watch for the entirety of the review time.
Watch, listen, learn
Galaxy S7 Video Review
A definite improvement
Galaxy S7 Hardware
Let’s start with the basics. The Galaxy S7 isn’t a huge departure over 2015’s Galaxy S6. Samsung’s mainly kept what worked last time, and made it better. And along the way they’ve worked on some of our concerns.
The Galaxy S7 itself is just about the same size as the Galaxy S6, and the iPhone 6s, while we’re comparing things. It’s a tad heavier than both, but not so much that you’d notice. Its corners are rounded in the same manner as before.
The biggest difference this year is that the backside has picked up the same sort of curves that we enjoyed on the much larger Galaxy Note 5. So it’s a lot more comfortable to hold that the S6. It also feels a lot less plasticky — using more metal will do that. All in all, it’s a really good feeling in the hand. “Premium,” even. Think of the GS7 as an extension of the GS6 and Note 5, really. It borrows from both while improving on what is already there, but very much still in the same family.
But like other metal phones, it’s very possible to ding it up a little bit. We’ve managed a few pockmarks on the edges already. Undoubtedly there will be others. (It’ll be interesting to see how much those stand out on the all-black model.)
And Samsung deserves a quick tip o’ the hat for the speaker this year. If you’re going to be stuck with a single, downward-facing speaker, you want it to at least be as good as what’s in the Galaxy S7. While nothing beats a good front-facing stereo system, it’s much improved over the GS6.
The Galaxy S7 display
Samsung kept with a 5.1-inch AMOLED display this year as well. The quad-HD resolution — 2560×1440 — gives about 577 pixels per inch, which is still ridiculously dense. And the panel is still excellent, with crisp colors and deep blacks. It’s about as good as you can get — and it’s excellent outdoors, in full sunlight. And it’s still impressive to see a screen that’s so much bigger — and at a much higher resolution — than what Apple’s kept in the iPhone, in a body roughly the same size. The stature of this phone goes back to what we had in, say, the 2014 Moto X. It’s still large, while absolutely being pocketable. For many folks (including me) this is the sweet spot, or darn close to it.
New for the display is an “Always-on” mode. It’s a feature we’ve seen on other phones, but this is the first time Samsung’s going for it. When the phone’s just laying around it’ll float a little bit of information around on the screen. By default you get the day and date, time, battery level, and basic notifications from a select apps, like Samsung’s email client and missed phone calls. Use Gmail? You’re out of luck.
The bigger problem is that it’s not really useful beyond quickly checking the time, or seeing that you have an email waiting. (And if you’re anything like us, you always have an email or text message waiting.) Sure, you’ve got seven styles of clock from which to choose — or you can go with a monthly calendar view, or a full-bleed patterned image. But none of that comes close to the usefulness of other always-on implementations that let you actually do something with the notifications, or show previews of messages.
But, yes, you’ll save battery life by not waking the entire screen when you just need to check the time. So there’s that. And if you’re wearing a smartwatch, it’s even more superfluous.
An excellent fingerprint experience
More useful is Samsung’s fingerprint sensor tucked inside the home button. On it’s own it’s as good as ever. But now that it’s on a phone with Android 6.0 Marshmallow — and supports all of the fingerprint features that come baked into Android 6.x and not just Samsung’s — it’s excellent. Buying things is easier than ever. Password managers are secure but quick to open. And, of course, you can unlock your phone more easily.
That’s maybe not a big deal just yet — far too few apps are really using the new fingerprint software yet, but that’s changing. And it’ll continue to get better as more phones update to Marshmallow, and more new phones launch with it. (And that’s to say nothing about Android N coming out later in 2016.)
Oh, and a double-press of the home button is still the fastest way to launch the camera. No other phone comes close.
The SD card returns, and micro-USB stays
One major feature Samsung’s brought back with the Galaxy S7 is expandable storage. That is, it’s got a microSD card tucked into the SIM card tray. Using that on top of the 32 gigabytes of on board storage — and only about 16 gigabytes or so of that is actually available to you — means you can have up to 200 gigabytes of storage in total. And Samsung has decided to NOT use the Adoptable Storage feature that’s in Marshmallow, so you can still use the card to transfer pics and videos and music and movies from one device to another. And you can still move some apps to the SD card, but not all of them. That’s absolutely still up to the developer.
Few will question the return of the SD card, but shunning Adoptable Storage will be a questionable decision for a good many who would prefer Samsung use the updated Android feature. But Samsung’s being very conservative in this case.
Another area in which Samsung isn’t yet moving to future tech is on the bottom of the phone. The Galaxy S7 continues to use a micro-USB plug and not the newer, reversible USB-C.
That means a couple things. One is that your existing accessories should still work and you won’t have to buy new chargers and cables. Another is that the Galaxy S7 will work in the existing Samsung Gear VR virtual reality visor. (And, in fact, Samsung is giving a bunch of them away when folks purchase a Galaxy S7.) Sticking with micro-USB will be another strike against the Galaxy S7 for some people, but Samsung at least has a good argument for not changing things just yet.
More waterproof than you
Now it’s time for a little fun. The Galaxy S7 is waterproof. Not quite “take it swimming because you can” waterproof, but it’s good for a half-hour in about five feet of water. A quick trip in the shallow end shouldn’t kill it. Neither should a spilled drink. Or a dip in a fountain. Whatever. It’s rated IP68.
The official line is you’re good to 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes. Anything more than that — deeper or longer — and you’re on your own.
And Samsung has done this without any annoying flaps covering the micro-USB port. If you do try to plug in while there’s still moisture up in there, you’ll get a little warning that things need to dry out first.
It’s a cool feature to have, even if it’s not really one you should actively use. Safety first and all that. But, seriously, try to keep your phone out of the water.
By the numbers
Samsung Galaxy S7 Specs
|Operating System||Android 6.0Marshmallow||Android 5.1.1Lollipop||iOS 9|
|Display||5.1-inch2560x1440Super AMOLED||5.1-inch2560x1440Super AMOLED||4.7-inch1334x750IPS LCD|
|Processor||Quad-core Snapdragon 820or Octa-core Samsung Exynos||Octa-core Samsung Exynos 7||Dual-core Apple A9|
|Expandable||microSDUp to 200GB||No||No|
|Rear Camera||12MP f/1.71.4-micron pixelsOIS||16MP f/1.91.12-micron pixelsOIS||12MP ƒ/2.21.22-micron pixels|
|Front Camera||5MP f/1.7||5MP f/1.9||5MP f/2.2|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMOBluetooth v4.2 LEANT+, USB 2.0, NFC||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMOBluetooth v4.1 LEANT+, USB 2.0, NFC||Wi-Fi 802.11acBluetooth 4.2 LE|
|Charging||micro-USBFast chargingQi wirelessPowermat wireless||micro-USBFast chargingQi wirelessPowermat wireless||Lightning port|
|Battery||3000 mAh||2550 mAh||1715mAh|
|Water resistance||IP68 rating||No||No|
|Security||One-touch fingerprintSamsung KNOX||One-touch fingerprintSamsung KNOX||Touch ID|
|Dimensions||142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm||143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm||138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm|
Snapdragon or Exynos?
As we go through our reviews of the Galaxy S7 and GS7 edge, it’s worth noting that there are actually two kinds of processors out being used by Samsung, depending on where you buy the phone. In the U.S., China and Japan, the phone will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor. Elsewhere around the world, you’ll likely find a Samsung Exynos 8 octa-core processor instead.
Differences between the two phones in terms of performance and battery life should be negligible, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you see impressions of the phones from different regions that they may well be using different processors. Our reviews is entirely based on the use of a Snapdragon-powered U.S. model.
Galaxy S7 Software
The Galaxy S7 is running Android 6.0.1, which is the newest version of Android available at the time the GS7 is released. It’s also got the February 2016 Android security patches.
Another couple points on security. Samsung’s KNOX service is on board, of course, useful for allowing you to keep your personal information completely siloed off from your work data. And Samsung’s made it even easier with its My Knox app.
And the Galaxy S7 is encrypted, which is increasingly important. But one thing you’ll want to check is whether a password or PIN is required to boot and decrypt the phone. The setup process might not have presented that option, and it’s a good one to take advantage of.
Beyond that, Samsung is really the only other manufacturer (especially for those of us in this part of the world) you’ll run into that has its own app ecosystem. We recommend biting the bullet and signing up for a Samsung account, and then signing into your phone. There are some little things that Samsung will want to update through its own services, and that’s the price of admission. Or if you simply don’t want to use Google’s services but still get new apps, it’s an option here.
And you might well need to go hunting for a few new apps, as some surprisingly ones might not pre-loaded. That includes the excellent Samsung Pay, which lets you use your phone for purchases even a store doesn’t use contactless payments. Other apps — like Google’s productivity apps, or Microsoft’s, even — will need to be downloaded later as well. It’ll depend on what carrier you got your Galaxy S7 from.
The good news is that Samsung’s user interface customizations are about as good as they’ve ever been. You’re going to want to move some things around, but the UI as fast and fluid, and still has plenty of options. You can move apps off the home screen and add folders as you see fit. You can rearrange the app drawer alphabetically, or just search for your installed apps. A chosen few apps also have support for notifications badges, so you can know just how much you’re missing out on.
And Samsung still has a one-handed mode, support for multi-window with two apps at once, and about a bazillion other tweaks and features.
Interestingly, the “Briefing” part of Samsung’s launcher — that’s the Flipboard-powered newsreader tucked into the far-left edge — was turned off by default. Why even bother having it take up space, then?
Dedicated gaming features on the GS7
For the gamers, The GS7 has a dedicated Game Launcher that gives quick access to all the fun stuff. But more than that the Game Tools can shut down notifications so you’re not distracted by something more important. Or you can take in-game screenshots or record video. And it’s all easily accessible through pop-up style buttons. It’s handy as hell, and something we’re pretty stoked to see on phones — to say nothing of when Samsung brings this feature to its tablets.
Plus, the Galaxy S7 can take advantage of the new Vulkan gaming APIs, which should future-proof it for a while. If someone tries to tell you Android isn’t for gaming, just show them this phone.
So there’s still a LOT going on here in the software, but it’s smartly done, better designed and fast as anything. And you can always download and use a different launcher if you want.
A word on monthly security updates
We’ve been placing increased emphasis on monthly security updates since Google announced them in the fall of 2015. And Samsung has dedicated a website to security and what’s new in its own updates.
While we applaud the transparency, the truth remains that it’s a crapshoot when (or whether) a carrier-branded Samsung phone will be updated. While it’s not quite a deal-breaker for us, it’s something to keep in mind when purchasing.
There’s some definitely room for Samsung — the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer — to improve on this front.
Mo’ light, mo’ problems
Samsung Galaxy S7 Camera
Samsung’s cameras have a lot to live up to. They’ve consistently been among our favorites the last year or so. Of the issues we had with the Galaxy S6, the camera generally wasn’t one of them. Same goes for the Galaxy Note 5. Point is, we came into the Galaxy S7 with very high expectations to begin with, and even more so when Samsung immediately went to the mat with the iPhone over which takes better pics — particularly in low light.
Samsung’s changed things up a little bit in the Galaxy S7, though. On one hand there aren’t really any gimmicks here. No second lens or anything. There’s one on the back, smack in the middle of the phone. And your usual sort of selfie-shooter on the front. (Also just one there).
The larger pixels, stabilization, and ƒ/1.7 aperture mean you should get better pictures overall, and better shots in low light.
But the rear camera now uses a 12-megapixel sensor — down from the 16MP sensor in the previous generation phones. But the sensor itself has larger individual pixels — 1.4 microns, up from the previous 1.12 microns. Larger pixels mean more light. (If this sounds familiar, it’s exactly what HTC touted with the ‘UltraPixel’ camera in the One M7.) And that — combined with optical image stabilization and an even wider ƒ/1.7 aperture — theoretically means you’re going to get better pictures overall, and better shots in low light.
(Plus the camera doesn’t stick out from the back of the phone as far anymore, since the phone itself is thicker.)
In reality, though, the end results have been a bit mixed. The act of taking a picture remains as great as ever. Samsung’s camera app is excellent, and feature-rich without being overwhelming. You will need to spend a little time poking around to find everything, but there are a bunch of cool things to play with.
It’s the end result that’s … well, it’s a little confusing. We’re gotten some great shots out of the Galaxy S7 in daylight, for sure. But we’ve also gotten some that have a good bit of yellow tinge to them. Or others with details that aren’t as crisp as we expected. Or a beautiful blue sky that’s noisy when viewed at 100 percent. Or sometimes the shot is simply blown out with any sort of direct sunlight. It’s good, but maybe there’s a little more tuning to be done? (When is there not, though.)
Low light is supposed to be where the Galaxy S7 really excels. It’s good. It’s really good. But it’s not a miracle worker.
Low light is supposed to be where the Galaxy S7 really excels. And, again, the answer is “it depends.” Give it some light to work with and it does pretty well. Maybe it’s not quite as magical as the GS6 and Note 5 seemed to be, or our expectations are that much higher now. It’s good. It’s really good. But it’s not a miracle worker.
We’re picking nits here a little bit. Maybe more than a little bit. For most people this camera is going to be more than good enough. If all you’re doing is sharing to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever anyway, it’s a great camera to have. I could probably get away with it for work shots, if I wanted to. (And maybe I already have.)
The front-facing camera weighs in at 5 megapixels. So you can selfie as much as you want. And that end of things works as well as we’d expect it to.
Loads of camera app features, for better or worse
Back to the camera app. Again it’s easily among the best out there. You’ve got options for all kinds of modes, including a manual mode (“Pro,” if you will) that gives full control over ISO and white balance and shutter speed and the like. Plus you can save images in the RAW format, like professional photographers do. Or there’s selective focus, panorama, a video collage, live video broadcasting through YouTube, slow motion shots, a Matrix-style virtual shot, dedicated food mode, and hyperlapse. And you can download more modes from the Samsung app store.
One cool new feature is that when you’re shooting a panorama, any objects moving through the frame will actually move in the panorama instead of being chopped in half. You’ve got the option to view the panorama like normal in the gallery app. (And if you do, anything moving inside the pano is going to look messed up.) But if you hit the motion button in the top right, you get a different version that lets drag your finger over the pano to move left or right — and then anything inside it moves. (You also can tilt the phone to pan.)
It’s a really neat trick, no? Problem is, it’s only neat on the phone. You can share the panorama file just like you always could. But, again, anything moving inside it is going to look very broken. You can export the motion pano as a video file. But that’s not quite as magical either — you’re just watching a video then. On the device? It’s great. But it’s stuck there.
Virtual shot is kind of in the same boat. You rotate around an object and get a crude Matrix-like shot. Sounds great, but doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
So, again, you’ll want to explore the features. Some will be more useful than others. But all in all it’s still an excellent camera experience.
The daily driver
Galaxy S7 Real-World Use
So how is the Galaxy S7 to use as a daily driver? In a word, excellent.
It’s big, but not in the HUGE category. That’s maybe my favorite thing about it. It’ll comfortably fit in your pants pocket, and easily slip into a purse. You’ll be able to put a case on it without making the phone into something bigger.
Of course, the carriers in the U.S. are going to do their thing. Verizon bloats it up pretty good with a number of apps that mostly duplicate what either Samsung or Google already brought to the table. Want simultaneous voice and data? You got it — if you’ve got Verizon’s Advanced Calling turned on. (And I didn’t at first. It showed up as an update at some point.)
Other carriers will do their things to this phone, too — and not always for the better. To that end, we REALLY want to see Samsung sell unlocked, unadulterated phones on its own in the U.S. Once again, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world to do in the U.S.
I’ve been using the GS7 in its early days. That also means things occasionally break. Android Auto has yet to work for me. That also was temporarily the case with the Galaxy S6, though, when it was initially released. That could be a Verizon thing — it does some funky stuff when you plug it in to your car — or it could be a matter of the services behind Android Auto not yet being updated for the GS7. Or both.
And while TouchWiz is as good as it’s ever been, I’ll still be using a different launcher on my Galaxy S7. To each his own. At the very least you should move your frequently used apps onto the home screen and not just leave them buried in the app drawer. Do not be afraid to move things around.
Between 12 and 15 hours of battery life with moderate use isn’t out of the question with the Galaxy S7.
Nothing about the Snapdragon 820 has really stood out to me. The phone sometimes gets warm, but nothing like what we experienced in the early days of the 810. The 4GB of RAM so far has seemed to be enough, too. I haven’t had any issues with the 4 gigabytes of RAM, either. If you’re the sort who likes to find out exactly when apps get dumped from memory, you may well see something different. But in normal use, things have been just fine for me.
Battery life has been decent. I’d say acceptable. Jumping from 2,550 milli-amp-hours in the Galaxy S6 to 3,000 in the GS7 isn’t a huge change — about a 17 percent increase. But that combined with the Snapdragon 820 processor and its power usage improvements, and we’re not scrambling for a charger nearly as fast as we were with the GS6. Between 12 and 15 hours of moderate use isn’t out of the question, and that’s without employing any of Samsung’s battery-saving tech. And while the GS7 uses Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 and not the newer (and faster) 3.0, you can still get about 45 percent of a full charge in 30 minutes. (I was measuring about 8V @ 1.6A.) It’s pretty quick in any event. Battery life (on Verizon at least) won’t blow you away. But it’s definitely better than the Galaxy S6 was.
Call quality has been fine, and I didn’t have any issues with Bluetooth or GPS. It’s a phone, and it does normal phone things.
And Samsung’s keyboard deserves a mention here. I always try the stock keyboard for a little while before switching back to SwiftKey. Samsung’s keyboard in the Galaxy S7 has lasted the longest. The prediction is pretty good. I’m digging the default number row. My only complaint is that the long-press keys are tiny and tough to see in a hurry. (I’m still getting used to the layout, but that doesn’t mean folks shouldn’t be able to find things.) But it’s nice having visual consistency when an app or the Android UI switches to a number layout.
One thing we’d love to see tweaked, however, is how Samsung’s keyboard aggressively predicts email addresses — and usually not to the writer’s benefit. Someone’s going to get in trouble over that pretty quick.
All in all? Great phone. Great experience, even when you have Verizon clunking things up a little bit with bloatware and a ho-hum out-of-box user interface. (Seriously, don’t be afraid to move things around.)
The bottom line
Should you buy it? Yes!
It’s not all that often we can recommend a phone without any real hesitation. The Galaxy S7 is one of those. Samsung has improved on most of our complaints from the Galaxy S6 era. Battery life is improved. Not great, but adequate. The overall design is better and less slippery, and it takes a case well without becoming too large. The display size hits that 5.1-inch sweet spot. The fingerprint feature is excellent.
And while we’re a little back-and-forth on the camera, that’s because Samsung is among the manufacturers that we tend to hold to a higher standard in that regard. The Galaxy S7 camera should, in any event, serve you just fine.
There’s a reason Samsung’s going to sell tens of millions of these things. One is that the Samsung marketing machine is in full effect. You’re going to hear a whole lot about the Galaxy S7, just about anywhere you turn. And for a long time. (OK, at least until the next next big thing comes out.)
But the other is that the Galaxy S7 is just one hell of a phone.
Where to buy the Galaxy S7
This is always a tricky question when it comes to a device that’s available globally from a variety of retailers, but we can at least offer up some handy links of those who want to buy in the U.S. from one of the major carriers. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all have the Galaxy S7 for sale.
See at Amazon See at AT&T See at Sprint See at T-Mobile See at Verizon
Also: Read our Galaxy S7 edge review!
The Galaxy S7 is just one half of Samsung’s 2016 tag-team event. The larger Galaxy S7 edge sports a 5.5-inch display with a curved “edge” screen. It’s also got a 20 percent larger battery than the Galaxy S7. For some, that will be a reason to buy.
Hit the link below for our comprehensive Galaxy S7 edge review.
Read our GS7 edge review here!